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Making ourselves safer online
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We can have the best security software money can buy and we can still get duped online and one of the key avenues that online criminals find their victims through is by sending out bulk emails.

In t his and the next section we will look at this problem in some detail!


1. Having Anti-virus software is a good start BUT it can only protect you against threats it knows about.

Think about the traditional constant struggle between poachers and gamekeepers. Criminals are constantly looking for new ways to exploit you and any weaknesses in your computers systems and anti-virus developers are constantly trying to keep up and keep them out – but there will be times when the criminals are one step ahead!

The best you can do is to keep your computer security up to date – both your anti-virus system and the security patches that regularly update your computer operating system and other programs (such as office software) you have installed.

Most modern computer operating systems and anti-virus software updates itself in the background often without you being aware – but check that this is switched on and working correctly.

Also make sure you have the latest version of your Internet web browser - such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox etc.

2. Don't open emails or attachments from people you don't know.

Especially be wary of emails with nothing in them except may be a picture or a text link – NEVER click on either or open any attachment that comes with an email from a source you don’t know or are unsure of.

3. Be wary of unusual emails from people you do know.

An email arrives from someone you know either with no text, except for a link or with just with an image file and nothing else – or it may be an unusual message such as a request along the lines of “I am stranded send me cash... etc.”

Your first thought should be to treat such email with caution. Okay you know who its off but you should be suspicious that this persons email account has been hacked and is now being used to send out spam – although the account holder will probably still be unaware this is happening.

Don’t respond directly to the email itself!

Create a brand new email and send it back to the person to check with them if they are aware of the email sent to you from their account? Chances are everyone in their contacts list has had the same email and the supposed sender is completely unaware this is happening.

Usually such problems relate to email accounts that are being run through webmail*.

The email account has been compromised and has been hijacked by someone up to no good!

*Webmail is where you access your email by logging onto a website (rather than retrieving it through Outlook on your computer).

If this happens to you try firstly changing your webmail log in password. If this doesn’t fix the problem contact your email service provider – or you may need to set up a new fresh email account.

4. Recognising spam.

Spam is unsolicited email – you haven’t asked for it, aren’t expecting and don’t want it! Such email is often either trying to con you with an offer to good to be true or duping you into an action that will open your computer up to be accessed remotely by hackers.

Most spam is annoying but pretty obvious, but some is a bit more cunning in how it is presented to you.

Here’s some help with spotting what spam may look like:

• You don’t recognise or know the sender or their email address.
• Contains misspellings (for example ‘p0rn’ with a zero)
• Makes an offer that seems too good to be true.
• The subject line and content don’t match.
• Comes with an urgent offer end date - “Buy now and get 50% off”.
• Warns you that your computer is infected with a virus.
• May come with attachments, which could include .exe files – DO NOT OPEN EMAILS IF YOU ARE AT ALL UNSURE.

Even though spammers constantly change the email addresses they use block any junk mail that comes through to you.

5. Blocking spam emails and deleting them.

Any email that comes to you that you aren’t expecting and don’t want is ‘spam’. Use your block sender option and you won’t get any more email from this source.

6. Use unique passwords for every site you interact with

This is a nuisance but having different passwords for different websites that you visit means that if one password becomes compromised it doesn’t necessarily mean all the others are now vulnerable too.

Also, don’t be tempted to keep a list on your computer with all your passwords on it. If your computer is hijacked (see Botnik entry) then someone stands to have a field day with your personal information.

7. Make sure passwords are complex and contain no personal information - a combination of letters and numbers is a must

For example a weak password might be your date of birth jumbled up but a strong password will be something that doesn’t directly relate to you and has a mix of letters and numbers – e.g. ph0en1x41

8. Check websites are genuine - by looking for addresses and phone numbers

Don’t become too trusting online. If a website doesn’t have an associated real world address - ask yourself why not? Especially if you are going to be ordering goods and services.

Virtually anyone can create and register a website address. If you are unsure do they have a links page? Do these links take you to other bona fide websites and do they then ink back to this website?

The rule of thumb should be if you are unsure then just walkaway!

9. Check the address in the browser address bar is the same as the one you typed

Not so obvious this – but have you been actually taken to the website you thought you were asking to look at or have you been redirected elsewhere?

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